Magazine article The Spectator

Comic Timing

Magazine article The Spectator

Comic Timing

Article excerpt

How quaint the wave of alternative comedy of the 1980s seems now. It began at the Comedy Store in Soho just two weeks after Margaret Thatcher first became prime minister and was largely an attack on her and her government. That's why it then seemed to me so utterly predictable and dull and much of it not even funny. Clive Anderson was one of those early stand-up comedians, and in Margaret Thatcher Ha Ha Ha on Radio Four (Saturday) he talked to some of the others about the nature of a movement -- for that's what it was -- united by a loathing of the prime minister and her policies. Not quite everyone was a leftist, but right-wing humour wasn't allowed. One of the comics, Tony Allen, described himself as having a squatter lifestyle, part of an anarcho-libertarian, hippy counter-culture.

Anderson was a lawyer; another, Arnold Brown, was an accountant. Fellow performer Oliver Double thought that when a leader is 'very dogmatic and powerful and making radical changes to society' politics came to the fore. He thought Thatcher was 'nuts'. Alexei Sayle, who came from a communist background, thought she was 'very ogreish; she made a wonderful target as a very distinctive person. It would have been very different without her.' Pauline Melville, a feminist comic at the time, said, 'She was a reactionary old cow, so fair game absolutely.' Another, Jenny Lecoat, recalled, 'What was useful was that we had one person that we universally hated so much and that not only all the comedians but most of the audience hated as well, and there's nothing more effective at bringing an audience together than having a go at somebody we. . . hate.' Ben Elton thought of the 1980s as a confrontational decade, the post-war consensus was ending and there were radical changes taking place. He'd found the politics of the period fascinating. Andy de la Tour was apparently the most determinedly political of them all, even telling a joke about Airey Neave who was murdered by what Anderson called Irish terrorists. The last isn't a word you normally hear on the radio these days. Usually, the mealymouthed BBC calls them militants, as if they were just a touch on the extreme side.

For Melville, it was entirely the politics that motivated her; she had no intention of making a career out of being a comedian. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.